Plain Writing Act of 2010: How Organizations Can Improve Communication with the Public

20 Jun 2023


The Plain Writing Act of 2010 is a critical tool for government institutions and private corporations to enhance communication and ensure regulatory compliance. By promoting clear and accessible language, the act facilitates effective engagement with the public, fostering transparency, inclusivity, and trust.

For government entities, adhering to plain writing principles enables them to fulfill their obligation of providing understandable information to citizens.

Similarly, private corporations benefit by enhancing customer satisfaction, streamlining processes, and avoiding legal consequences.

Embracing the requirements of the Plain Writing Act empowers organizations to improve communication, strengthen their public image, and build stronger connections with their stakeholders. As such, this discussion will focus on the Plain Writing Act of 2010 and how government institutions and even private corporations can get the most out of it.

What Is the Plain Writing Act of 2010?

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 is a United States federal law that aims to improve the clarity and understandability of government communications.

The law requires federal agencies to use plain language when communicating with the public, making government information more accessible and understandable to the average citizen.

The act was signed into law by President Barack Obama on October 13, 2010, and it builds upon previous efforts to promote clear communication in government.

The act’s main purpose is to eliminate bureaucratic jargon, convoluted sentences, and confusing language that often hinder the public’s ability to understand and engage with government information, forms, and documents.

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 Key Features

Here are the key elements and provisions of the Plain Writing Act of 2010:

Plain Writing Requirement

The law mandates that federal agencies use plain writing in all documents necessary for obtaining information or services from the government. This requirement includes forms, letters, publications, notices, and instructions.

Plain Language Standards

The act requires agencies to adhere to certain plain language standards when preparing written communications. These standards include using clear and concise language, organizing information logically, and using formatting techniques that enhance readability, such as headings, bullet points, and tables.

Training and Compliance

The law stipulates that agencies must train and support employees involved in writing and preparing documents. This training helps employees understand and implement plain writing principles, ensuring compliance with the law.

Public Accessibility

The act emphasizes the importance of making government information accessible to the public. It encourages agencies to use digital platforms and technology to facilitate access to information, including through websites and online resources.

Compliance Reporting

The law requires agencies to submit an annual report to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) detailing their compliance with the plain writing requirements.

The reports help to monitor progress and identify areas where further improvements may be needed.

Enforcement and Oversight

The OMB oversees the act’s implementation and ensures agency compliance. However, the act does not provide a specific enforcement mechanism or penalties for non-compliance.

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 reflects a broader movement towards plain language and clear communication in government. Its goal is to enhance transparency, improve public participation, and empower citizens by making government information more understandable and user-friendly. Promoting plain writing aims to bridge the gap between government agencies and the public, fostering better engagement and comprehension of important public policies, regulations, and services.

Why Is the Plain Writing Act of 2010 Important?

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 is important for both government institutions and private corporations for several reasons:

Enhanced Communication

Clear and effective communication is essential for any organization. The act emphasizes plain language, eliminating jargon, complex terms, and convoluted sentences. By adopting plain writing principles, government agencies and private corporations can ensure that a wide audience easily understands their messages. This approach leads to improved communication and reduces the risk of misunderstandings or misinterpretations.

Accessibility and Inclusivity

The act aims to make information accessible to all individuals, regardless of their educational background or literacy level. By using plain language, organizations can reach a broader audience and ensure their communications are inclusive. This condition is particularly important for government institutions that serve diverse populations with varying education and language proficiency levels.

Transparency and Trust

Transparent communication builds trust between organizations and stakeholders, whether citizens, customers, or employees. The use of plain language helps to convey information straightforwardly, minimizing ambiguity and promoting transparency. When government institutions and private corporations communicate clearly, trust and confidence in their operations, policies, and services are fostered.

Compliance and Legal Requirements

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 is a legal requirement for federal government agencies.

Compliance with the act ensures that these agencies fulfill their obligation to provide clear and understandable information to the public. Similarly, private corporations may need to adhere to plain writing standards depending on industry regulations or customer expectations.

Compliance avoids legal consequences and demonstrates a commitment to effective communication practices.

Cost and Time Savings

Poorly written or unclear communications can lead to misunderstandings, errors, and delays. These practices can result in wasted time and resources for both government institutions and private corporations. Organizations can reduce the need for follow-up inquiries, clarification requests, or rework by adopting plain writing principles. Clear and concise information helps streamline processes, improve efficiency, and save costs.

Customer Satisfaction and User Experience

Organizations prioritizing plain writing create a positive user experience for their customers or constituents. Whether it’s government forms, instruction manuals, product descriptions, or online content, using plain language ensures that users can easily understand and engage with the information. This approach leads to increased customer satisfaction, better user experiences, and a more positive perception of the organization.

Compliance with International Standards

Several countries and international organizations advocate for plain language in government and corporate communications. The Plain Writing Act aligns with global efforts to promote clear communication, making it easier for organizations to comply with international standards and guidelines.

Key Ways Government Institutions Can Ensure They Follow the Plain Writing Act of 2010

Government entities can ensure compliance with the rules outlined in the Plain Writing Act of 2010 by following these key steps:

Establish a Plain Writing Policy

Government agencies should create a clear and comprehensive plain writing policy that outlines the organization’s commitment to using plain language in all communications. The policy should define plain language, provide guidelines and examples, and specify the individuals responsible for implementing and overseeing compliance.

Provide Training and Resources

Training is crucial to educate employees on plain writing principles and help them understand how to apply them effectively.

Government entities should offer training programs, workshops, or online resources to enhance employees' writing skills and promote the use of plain language.

These resources can include style guides, templates, and writing tools that facilitate plain writing practices.

Designate Plain Writing Coordinators

It is beneficial to appoint plain writing coordinators within each government agency responsible for overseeing compliance with the Plain Writing Act. These coordinators can provide guidance, review documents for plain language adherence, and serve as contact points for employees seeking assistance with plain writing.

Conduct Document Reviews

Regularly reviewing documents for compliance with plain language standards is essential. Government entities should establish processes to review and revise existing documents and implement plain language practices in new document creation. This practice involves simplifying language, organizing information logically, using appropriate formatting, and ensuring clarity and comprehensibility for the intended audience.

Incorporate User Testing and Feedback

User testing and feedback play a crucial role in evaluating the effectiveness of communications. Government agencies should involve the intended audience in reviewing and testing documents to gauge their understanding and identify areas for improvement. User feedback and usability testing can provide valuable insights to refine the clarity and accessibility of government communications.

Establish a Compliance Reporting System

Government entities should establish a reporting system to monitor compliance with the Plain Writing Act. This system can require agencies to submit regular reports documenting their efforts to implement plain writing practices, including training programs, document reviews, and progress made toward improving communication clarity. The reports can assess compliance, identify challenges, and track improvements over time.

Promote Plain Language in Digital Channels

Government agencies should prioritize using plain language in digital platforms and channels like websites, online forms, and social media. This practice includes using clear headings, concise text, descriptive links, and intuitive navigation to enhance user experience and accessibility. Implementing accessibility standards, such as providing alternative text for images and ensuring compatibility with assistive technologies, is also important.

Foster a Culture of Plain Writing

Creating a culture that values and encourages plain writing is crucial for sustained compliance. Government entities should promote employee awareness of the Plain Writing Act and foster a culture that prioritizes clear communication. This culture can be achieved through ongoing training, internal communications, recognition of employees who excel in plain writing, and integration of plain language principles into performance evaluations.

How a Professional Writing Agency Can Help Organizations Follow the Rules in the Plain Writing Act of 2010

A professional writing agency can assist government institutions and private corporations in following the rules outlined in the Plain Writing Act of 2010. Here’s how a professional writing agency can help ensure compliance and improve public image by making communication more effective with the public:

Expertise in Plain Writing

Professional writing agencies often have a team of skilled writers specializing in plain language writing techniques. These writers have expertise in simplifying complex information, organizing content effectively, and using clear and concise language. By leveraging their expertise, the agency can help government entities and corporations develop plain writing strategies that align with the requirements of the Plain Writing Act.

Document Revision and Editing

A professional writing agency can review and edit existing documents to ensure compliance with plain language standards.

They can identify and rephrase jargon, eliminate unnecessary technical terms, simplify complex sentences, and improve overall readability.

By working closely with the organization, the agency can transform complex content into clear and accessible information that adheres to plain writing principles.

Development of Plain Language Templates

Professional writing agencies can create plain language templates for various documents, such as forms, letters, reports, and instructional materials. These templates provide a consistent framework for authors, promoting adherence to plain language principles. Government entities and corporations can use these templates to streamline their document creation process and ensure that all communications are written in plain language.

Training and Workshops

Professional writing agencies can provide training and workshops to educate employees on plain writing techniques. These sessions can cover topics such as the principles of plain language, tips for writing clearly, and strategies for organizing information effectively. The agency helps foster a culture of plain writing within the organization by equipping employees with the necessary skills and knowledge. It empowers staff to produce clear and effective communications.

Usability Testing and User Feedback

Professional writing agencies can test usability and gather user feedback on government documents or corporate communications. They can facilitate focus groups, surveys, or user testing sessions to gauge comprehension, identify areas of confusion, and obtain valuable insights on improving communication clarity. By incorporating user perspectives, the agency helps ensure that the final documents meet the intended audience’s needs and comply with the Plain Writing Act.

Creation of Plain Language Style Guides

Professional writing agencies can develop customized plain language style guides tailored to the specific needs of government entities or corporations. These guides provide guidelines, examples, and best practices for writing in plain language, ensuring consistency across all communications. Style guides can cover aspects such as sentence structure, vocabulary choice, formatting, and tone, further supporting compliance with plain writing requirements.

Web Content Optimization

In the digital age, online platforms are crucial for effective communication. To align with plain writing principles, a professional writing agency can optimize web content, including websites, online forms, and social media posts. They can ensure clear headings, concise and scannable text, user-friendly navigation, and accessibility features. By improving the online presence and usability of government and corporate websites, the agency helps enhance public perception and engagement.

Public Image and Branding

Professional writing agencies can assist government institutions and private corporations craft a positive public image through effective communication. They can help develop compelling messaging, refine public statements, and align communications with organizational values and goals. By ensuring that all communication materials are clear, concise, and accessible, the agency helps build trust, enhance transparency, and strengthen the organization’s reputation.


A Final Consideration

The Plain Writing Act of 2010 serves as a wake-up call for organizations, urging them to prioritize improved communication and closer connections with the public. The act compels organizations to shed jargon and convoluted language by emphasizing plain language, fostering clarity and understanding. This shift towards accessible communication ensures compliance with the law and strengthens relationships with the public. Organizations that embrace the act’s principles are committed to transparency, trust, and effective engagement. The Plain Writing Act catalyzes organizations to revitalize their communication practices and forge closer bonds with the people they serve.

Zach Richter 

Related Content

  • 0 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *